Sarah stood cradling her arm to her chest. Her entire body ached, the raw wounds on her elbows and knees burning from the fabric of her clothes.
Zach eyed her with his brows raised, his gaze moving to her mouth.
“Why do you keep looking at me like that?”
“First kill?” He asked, shaking his head.
“You’re a mess. I take it you’re new here. Most of the newcomers have no idea how to hunt to not get soaked in blood like that.”
The vile taste of the man’s blood brought the queasy feeling back, and Sarah used the sleeve of her hoodie to wipe at her mouth.
“I’m not new.”
“I’ve never seen you around before. And you don’t smell like anything I’ve ever seen here. What are you?”
“I’m normal. Unlinked, whatever you want to call it.”
Zach’s eyes went wide, “No way! How did you end up here?”
“It’s a long story. Do you know how to get out? Or how to call someone?” She knew her questions were ridiculous, but she had to try.
Zach laughed, “Sure. Let me just get my cell out for you, and you can call the cops. I’m sure they’ll be right over.”
“You don’t have to be an ass about it.” Pain took all of Sarah’s humor, and she desperately wanted to find a way to call for Axin. Jake was right. This place was worse than anything she could imagine. Even the air tasted of death and pain.
“Look, lady, I know it sucks, but if you let it get to you, this place will eat you alive. Literally. Over and over again. You don’t die down here, so you get ripped apart, then heal and repeat. You need to learn to stand your ground. And you definitely don’t go looking for shit with that crazy bitch Fasia. She can make your life even more of a hell than it already is.”
Sarah stumbled to keep standing, her head spinning. “I told you, I’m not supposed to be here.”
“No one is. I don’t remember this place being talked about in Sunday school. It definitely wasn’t part of the afterlife options when I was alive.”
Sarah’s heart broke at how young this boy was. If he was here, then he was dead.
“What happened to you? How did you end up here?”
Zach let out a sigh, “It’s not important.”
“I just don’t see how a strong teenager like you would end up here.”
Zach stopped, turning to look at her, his eyes filled with tears. “I hung myself, okay. Now drop it.”
Sarah’s throat closed with a lump of sadness. “Why would you do that?”
A tear rolled from his eye. “My mom hated me, my dad was an asshole, and when he beat me up the last time, it felt like I had no other way out. It’s done. Just drop it.”
Sarah shook off the emotion that threatened to choke her and moved to follow him into a cave on the side of a mountain.
A loud, furious roar tore through the silence. Zach spun. “Shit! Get inside!”
Sarah searched the sky, looking down at the ground below the edge of the cliff but didn’t see anything.
“What is that?”
“The warden! Get inside now! He sounds really pissed.”
Relief almost brought Sarah to her knees.
“Axin!” Despite the pain in her arm, she threw her good one in the air and waved it in the direction she heard the sound come from.
“Axin!” She screamed, moving closer to the edge of the cliff.
“What the hell are you doing? Are you trying to get us both killed?”
“It’s okay. He’s looking for me.” I hope.
Another roar echoed off the ragged stone of the mountain, causing vibrations to run up Sarah’s aching legs.
Then she saw him. The distant outline of massive wings soaring through the clouds below the cliff.
“Axin! Up here!”
From the corner of her eye, Zach took the form of his griffin self and flew up to the rocks above the entrance to the cave. He looked down at her with his head cocked to the side, then let out a long, loud squawk.
Axin changed direction, moving fast towards the top of the mountain.
Sarah smiled wide, her eyes dripping with tears as she watched the man she loved coming towards her. Axin grew closer, his form getting clearer, and she saw the red dots of his eyes. He let out another roar, but this one sounded pained and worried.
She reached out her good arm, wanting to touch him. To hold him and to know that he was really there to save her.
Her chest grew tight, her lungs not able to take a breath. She frowned, fighting to pull in air. Axin was close enough that she could see his pain-filled eyes, but her chest squeezed tighter.
With a hard pull by something unseen, Sarah flew backward off the cliff, her arms and legs stretched out in front of her. Axin roared again, his large wings flapping with a powerful force, but he couldn’t catch up to her flying body.
She soared over the tops of the mountains, above the plains and skimmed the treetops as her body moved faster and faster over in the air. Axin tried to follow, his eyes fixed on her, but he grew further and further away as she hurtled through the air. All hope of ever getting out of this hell fled Sarah when Axin vanished from sight
Once she was over the scorched forest, her body lowered closer to the ground, the bare branches of the tree’s whipping at her face.
Then, with an excruciating hit to her back, she slammed onto the black rock she was led to earlier. She felt something snap, the pain in her back only reaching the middle of her body. She tried to move, but there was no feeling below her waist. My spine! I can’t feel my legs!